Soyuz TMA-19M docks with ISS in landmark moment for UK spaceflight

by Pete Harding

The Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft has completed its fast track journey to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying three crewmembers. The launch – and what resulted in a manual docking following a KURS failure – marked a very special moment for the United Kingdom as its first “official” astronaut, Tim Peake – became the first British national to board the ISS on Tuesday.

Soyuz TMA-19M:

Soyuz TMA-19M launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:03 AM GMT, on a six-hour expedited rendezvous profile to the ISS, for a docking to the Mini Research Module-1 (MRM-1) at 5:24 PM GMT.

However, just prior to docking, the KURS automated docking system failed, resulting in an abort. This resulted in a manual docking successfully taking place around 10 minutes later.

Hatch opening occurred just after 7:58 PM GMT, marking the historic arrival for Tim Peake.

2015-12-14-184101The crew of Soyuz TMA-19M is Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko, a former Russian Air Force pilot who is a veteran of four long-duration spaceflights – three on the ISS, one on Mir – as well as a Space Shuttle flight.

He has extensive experience of the Soyuz spacecraft – which proved to be more than useful as he successfully manually docked the Soyuz, the second time he had been called to carry out such a procedure – as well as having five spacewalks and 641 days in space to his name.


Also launched on Soyuz TMA-19M was NASA astronaut Tim Kopra.

A former US Army Apache helicopter pilot, Kopra spent two months aboard the ISS from July to September 2009, launching with the crew of STS-127 are returning with the crew of STS-128.

He was assigned to the crew of STS-133, the final flight of Space Shuttle Discovery, but one month before launch, in January 2011, Kopra broke his hip in a motorcycle accident and had to be removed from the mission.

Rounding out the crew of Soyuz TMA-19M was British astronaut Tim Peake, who shares more in common with his crewmate than just a name, as Peake is also a former army Apache helicopter pilot.

Peake’s launch will mark the first ever time that an “official” government-backed British astronaut, representing the UK, has been into space, and thus his mission marks a huge moment for UK involvement in human spaceflight.

The United Kingdom and the ISS:

The UK has had a hot-and-cold relationship with the ISS since the program’s inception on January 28, 1998, when the UK was one of the 15 nations that signed the ISS Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), which officially brought the ISS into existence.

2015-12-14-185236However, the UK was the only one of those 15 nations that signed the IGA that did not contribute any funding toward the ISS program throughout its construction, due to a long-standing policy that prevented the UK from having any financial involvement with human spaceflight missions.

Since the UK was unwilling to pay its way by contributing funding to the ISS, the UK was effectively “locked out” of participating in any research, or using any of the scientific facilities aboard the station, despite being a member of ESA.

The UK instead chose to focus its space activities in the satellite and telecommunications sectors, with these areas becoming the UK’s specialty within the global space industry, with a number of highly successful companies and research facilities forming as a result.

2015-12-14-185356As such, Britain’s space industry began to gain the attention of policymakers, which led to space being identified as a key area of economic strength and growth for the UK, which in turn led to the April 2010 formation of the UK Space Agency (UKSA), who were tasked with managing Britain’s space policy and contributions to ESA.

Less than one year earlier, in May 2009, the first ever British national was accepted as an ESA astronaut – former Army helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake. However, at the time, Peake was classified as a “European astronaut of British origin”, rather than a “British astronaut”.

Although at the time of Peake’s selection Britain was not a contributor to ESA’s human spaceflight program, Peake’s selection was seen as an enticement for the UK to become involved with ESA’s human spaceflight efforts.

UK life sciences advocacy groups – such as the UK Space Biomedical Association (UKSBA) – had already been lobbying for UK involvement in human spaceflight, given the UK’s world-class capabilities in this field of research.

Tim PeakeWith the recognition of space as an area of growth for the UK, the selection of Tim Peake, and the creation of UKSA as an advocate for the UK space industry all aligning at the right time, at the November 2012 ESA Ministerial meeting Britain’s new Conservative government reversed the UK’s policy of not contributing funding to human spaceflight programs.

As part of the UK’s 1.2-billion-pound contribution to ESA pledged at the November 2012 Ministerial – which made Britain the third largest ESA contributor in Europe, and also the only country in Europe to increase its contribution to ESA at the time – two revolutionary new funding contributions were announced.

First was a new 12.4-million-pound contribution to ESA’s European Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS) program, which granted the UK access to the research facilities aboard the ISS.

2015-12-14-185613Additionally, the UK made a 16-million-pound contribution to ESA’s effort to design and build an Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)-derived Service Module (SM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is being developed by ESA for NASA in exchange for European access to the ISS, hence is effectively a UK contribution towards ESA’s ISS operating costs.

These two contributions were designed to leverage the capabilities of Britain’s life sciences research industry, by enabling UK access to ISS research facilities, and the UK’s well-proven capabilities in satellite propulsion and communications technologies, which it is hoped will find their way into the Orion SM.

Additionally, it meant that Tim Peake could finally be referred to as a “British astronaut”, and would be able to carry out UK-designed experiments during what was hoped would be an impending flight assignment to the ISS.

2015-12-14-185810Sure enough, in May 2013, just six months after Britain’s newly announced contributions to ESA’s human spaceflight efforts, ESA announced that Tim Peake had been assigned to a long-duration mission aboard the ISS.

In January 2013, learned that Peake had originally been selected to fly on a 10-day short-duration flight opportunity to the ISS in September 2015, afforded by the crew rotation scheduling associated with the year-long mission to the ISS from 2015-2016.

However, it is understood that Britain objected to Peake being assigned a short-duration slot while Andreas Mogensen of Denmark flew a long-duration mission, considering that the UK contributed more funding than Denmark to ESA’s human spaceflight program at the Ministerial meeting in November 2012.

As a result, the 2015 short-duration opportunity was assigned to Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, with Major Peake assigned to a long-duration slot from late-2015 to mid-2016.

2015-12-14-185854With Peake’s assignment paving the way, in July 2015 UKSA released the UK’s first Space Environments and Human Spaceflight national strategy, which included the vision that “The UK will be a recognised and valued participant in human spaceflight and space environments research – in low Earth orbit, on analogue platforms and in deep space exploration.”

“Advancing scientific knowledge and technological capabilities as a pathway to growth will positively augment the UK economy and provide measurable societal benefits in sectors such as healthcare,
communications and education.”

In December 2015, less than one week before Peake’s launch to the ISS, the UK published its first National Space Policy, firmly cementing its role in human spaceflight, with Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, saying:

2015-12-14-185936“For decades mankind has dreamt of space travel and the final frontier, and from today the UK will trigger the next scientific and innovation revolution to turn science fiction into science fact. Not only are we celebrating the launch of the first UK Government-backed astronaut, but our first ever space policy will build on the inspiration he provides to grow our burgeoning space industry and bring space back down to Earth.”

“Historically we haven’t been a major player in space programmes, this policy will change that because, in the words of my hero Mr Spock, to do anything else would be highly illogical.”

Tim Peake – Britain’s first ESA astronaut:

Timothy Peake was born on April 7, 1972, in Chichester, UK. In 1990, at the age of 18, he attended the prestigious Royal Military College Sandhurst, and upon graduation in 1992 went on to serve as an Officer in the British Army, serving as a platoon Commander with the Royal Green Jackets infantry division in Northern Ireland.

2015-12-14-190041Not content with an earthbound career, he applied for a transfer to the Army Air Corps (AAC), for which he was selected, graduating as a helicopter pilot in 1994. Four years later in 1998, he became a flight instructor and was instrumental in bringing the WAH-64D Apache attack helicopter into UK service.

In 2005, he graduated from the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, a British military establishment that has now churned out eleven international astronauts. In 2006, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Flight Dynamics from the University of Portsmouth.

Major Peake left the British Army in 2009, after 17 years of service and over 3,000 flying hours, and became a helicopter test pilot with the Agusta-Westland company. However, just a few months later in May 2009, he was announced as part of the European astronaut class of 2009.

2015-12-14-190129Major Peake graduated from ESA astronaut training in November 2010, and between then and his flight assignment in May 2013, divided his time between flying Apache helicopters as a reserve pilot for the British Army, and astronaut training in Houston, Germany, and Russia.

Since his flight assignment, however, he has been undergoing an extensive 2.5-year training program in the US, Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan.

Peake’s mission will not be the first time that a Briton has been in space, with many joint UK-US nationals having flown aboard the Space Shuttle and ISS, including Mike Foale, Piers Sellers, Nick Patrick, and Greg H. Johnson.

As NASA astronauts, however, they all flew with US flags on their arms and did not represent the UK.

2015-12-14-190249Briton Helen Sharman became the first UK national to fly in space in 1991. However, she flew as part of a privately-funded commercial experiments program to the Russian Mir space station, and as such was not sanctioned by the British government to fly on behalf of UK.

Other privately-financed “space tourist” flights have also been made by joint UK-US national Richard Garriott, and joint UK-South African national Mark Shuttleworth. British Singer Sarah Brightman had been planning to fly to the ISS as a space tourist in September 2015, before pulling out just months before, meaning the title of “first UK national on the ISS” will now go to Tim Peake.

2015-12-14-190458Major Peake will, however, be the first ever person to fly in space on behalf of the UK government, thus officially representing the UK, and wearing a Union Jack flag on his arm. Major Peake’s flight will also represent the end of a long road by the British armed forces to get a current or former service member in space, having come tantalisingly close on several occasions in the past.

Those attempts were British Army Lieutenant-Colonels Anthony Boyle and Richard Farrimond, Royal Navy Commander Peter Longhurst, and Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadron Leader Nigel Wood, who in February 1984 were all selected as Payload Specialists to fly on the Space Shuttle as part of the Skynet 4 program. Ultimately, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster prevented all from ever flying in space.

The British forces again came close to being able to lay claim to an astronaut as part of the commercial Project Juno in 1991, with Royal Navy physician Gordon Brooks being selected as one of the final four candidates, and Army Air Corps Major Tim Mace being selected as back-up for Helen Sharman, who ultimately flew the mission.

Peake’s mission:

Tim Peake’s mission – named “Principia” – will cover his launch day of 15 December 2015, to his planned landing day of 5 June 2016.

2015-12-14-190608Peake was originally scheduled to launch to the ISS on 30 November 2015, but his launch was delayed by two weeks due to the Soyuz schedule re-adjustments associated with the April 2015 failure of Progress M-27M.

However, Peake was also granted a 1-month mission extension, from 5 May 2016 to 5 June 2016, due to a launch delay of the Progress MS-1 resupply spacecraft, which is the first in a new series of modernised Progress vehicles.

Roscosmos would like to fly two Progress MS flights before flying a crewed Soyuz MS flight, hence why the delay of Progress MS-1 has also delayed the crewed flight schedule. The net effect of Peake’s launch delay and mission extension is that he will get an extra two weeks aboard the ISS over what was originally planned.

2015-12-14-190629During Peake’s mission, he will participate in a number of UK designed experiments, which will have direct benefits to the UK research establishment, as well as a large number of educational outreach programs, aimed at inspiring UK schoolchildren to pursue a career in STEM subjects.

Notable events during Peake’s stay on the ISS include the departure of the Cygnus OA-4 mission in late Jan, and the arrival of the Dragon SpX-8 mission on its return-to-flight after Falcon 9’s failure in June 2015, which sources report is now likely to occur in the February or March timeframe.

2015-11-13-192315The SpX-8 flight will be carrying the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be the first ever inflatable module to be tested on a human-occupied spacecraft.

Thus, should approval for hatch opening be granted, Peake will be among the first human beings ever to float inside an inflatable module in space.

In early March, the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft will return to Earth carrying Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, who at the time of their departure will both have been aboard the ISS for one year. The Soyuz TMA-20M crew will launch to replace them in mid-March.

2015-12-14-191213From mid-March to early May, the Cygnus OA-5 mission should also occur, with the Dragon SpX-9 mission possibly following in a similar timeframe. This means that Peake may be present on the ISS when, for the first time ever, both a Cygnus and a Dragon spacecraft will be present simultaneously.

There is also the possibility that Peake will get to perform a spacewalk, which would make him the first ever UK national to do so.

The SpX-9 flight will be carrying International Docking Adapter-2 (IDA-2), which will be installed onto Pressurised Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2) via EVA in order to convert the station’s docking interfaces to ones compatible with future commercial crew vehicles.

2015-12-14-191601Peake could get to perform the spacewalk to install IDA-2, however this depends on SpX-9 flying before Peake leaves the ISS in early June, which at this time is far from certain, and also depends on whether NASA would elect to use Peake for the EVA, rather than NASA astronauts Tim Kopra and Jeff Williams, who will both be aboard the ISS at the time.

There is, however, likely to be a spacewalk occurring on the ISS in mid-January 2016, in order to replace the failed Sequential Shunt Unit-1B (SSU-1B), a component of the Channel 1B power generation system which failed last month, taking Channel 1B down with it.

2014-10-14 11_20_57-US EVA 28 SSU  PMM Prep Briefing Package.pdfSince SSU-1B is located on the P6 Truss, it’s also possible that the retraction of the Trailing Thermal Control Radiator (TTCR) on the P6 Truss would be performed during the same EVA, since both worksites would be close together. The TTCR retraction was deferred from US EVA-33 last month.

It’s not certain at this time whether Peake would get to perform said EVA should it occur, as NASA may elect to use US astronauts Tim Kopra and Scott Kelly, who both have prior EVA experience, whereas Peake has none.

However, Kopra and Peake have trained together in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) recently, and as such are familiar with each other’s working practices, could be of benefit to EVA planners.

2015-12-14-192056It is also expected that, during his mission, Peake will place the Union Jack flag back amongst the flags of the other 14 ISS partner nations, which are displayed in the end-cone of the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). The Union Jack was quietly removed from said location in late 2010, since it was decided that the UK did not “qualify” as an ISS partner nation.

But with Britain now decidedly a contributor to the ISS program, Peake is expected to place the Union Jack in its rightful place back amongst the flags of the ISS partner nations, reflecting the pride of the UK to finally be a part of the ISS endeavour.

From all at, we wish Major Peake the very best of luck on his historic mission to inspire the next generation of UK involvement in science, discovery, exploration and co-operation, on this planet and beyond. In the words of former Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach: “Godspeed – and have a little fun up there”.

(Images: NASA, ESA, AP and L2 sections – including renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

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